Why is it hard for many of us to write fiction during this pandemic? Several of my author friends have expressed difficulty getting motivated right now. One friend, who is normally a prolific writer, told me that he has not written anything since April. At our most recent Emerald Cove writer’s group meeting (via Zoom) this past Wednesday, only two of us provided stories or chapters for the others to review.
I’m not a psychologist, so I can only guess why the pandemic is affecting us this way. I suspect part of the problem may be that we’re in front of screens all day. We’re now about seven months into the shelter-at-home requirements (seven very long months). Many of us are zoomed out, videoed out, and really tired of staring at our electronic devices.
Prior to the pandemic, most of my screen time involved work, writing, and computer/video games. I had barely scratched the surface of social media, sent only occasional text messages, and had never attended a meeting via Zoom. Aside from a handful of online friends, most of my pre-COVID social contact with people occurred in live settings: meetings, club activities, sewing circles, travel, church, table-top rpgs, dining out, going to movies, etc.
Writing used to be a break from all that hustle and bustle of real-life. In the current environment, however, writing is just another activity done in front of an electronic device, amidst a host of activities done in front of those devices. Unless you are one of those rare individuals who still writes manuscripts by hand and/or uses an old-fashioned typewriter, writing during the pandemic means yet more screen time, during a day already filled with way too much screen time.
There is, alas, no solution to the screen time problem at the moment (or, at least, none that I know). Our electronic devices are critical for our social events (and our sanity!) right now. Most of us can’t get away from them. Certainly, we can and should take breaks from our electronics, by going for walks, exercising, reading non-digital versions of newspapers/books/magazines, and engaging in homey activities like cooking and gardening. None of those activities, however, involves the physical act of writing fiction. When we sit down to write, we are immediately back at the screen once more.
So, what do we do about our writing? How can we get motivated in this environment? Here is one suggestion that has helped me during this past month: try writing something entirely new.
As those of you who follow my blog may remember, I recently spent a lot of time debating on whether to revise an old novel that I first wrote about twenty years ago. I’ve tried several times since then to get back to it without success. I just can’t get motivated to begin the project. I feel like I am staring up at a mountain.
So I started something new instead. A brand new novel not based on any prior stories I’ve ever written. It’s set in an entirely new fantasy universe, with completely new characters and plotlines. Suddenly, I’m excited again. I want to spend time writing it. In fact, I’ve written almost 17,000 words in the last three weeks. That is, by far, the most I have written in such a short time since the pandemic began.
I don’t know if trying something new will work for you. But if you are suffering from shelter-at-home malaise and you just can’t bring yourself to continue with the next chapter of your current project, it couldn’t hurt to try. Your old project will still be there waiting for you when you return. During this crazy world of 2020, writing anything is better than nothing.
I wish all of you the best with your writing!